Thursday, January 29, 2009

Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime

John Corvino has an insightful article over at the Independent Gay Forum in which he ponders: “Why are [the] opponents [of gay people and same-sex marriage] obsessed with ‘butt-sex’?”

Good question. Honestly, I sometimes feel that, more often than not, it is those who are supposedly aghast at the idea of same-sex relations who seem the most fixated on writing and talking about such relations – albeit in a totally reductionist and thus dehumanizing way.

Corvino lists some recent examples of this type of fixation. For instance, he notes that a conservative pastor recently complained on his blog that gays “expect us to approve of butt sex and call it marriage.”

In the following excerpt from his article, “Gay Sex Isn’t Weird. Sex Is,” Corvino responds to the various “butt-sex”-fixated complaints of the anti-gay crowd.


Sex makes no sense in the abstract. But then you have urges, and you eventually act on them, and what once seemed weird and gross becomes . . . wow.

Our opponents recognize this in their own lives, but they can’t envision it elsewhere. It’s a profound failure of moral imagination – which is essential for empathy, which is at the foundation of the Golden Rule.

How can one “love thy neighbor as thyself” without any real effort to understand thy neighbor?

Our opponents contemplate our lives, our love, our longing, and what do they see? “Butt sex.” Such obtuseness is depressing.

Of course, not all gays engage in “butt sex” – some of us never do – and not only gays engage in “butt sex.”

Of course, most of what we do in bed is exactly the same as most of what they do in bed: cuddling and touching and caressing and kissing and sucking and rubbing and so on. (Not to mention sleeping, which when shared regularly can be beautifully intimate as well.)

What we do is the same not just in terms of formal acts. It’s the same in terms of being weird, and silly, and messy, and sublime.

Yes, Virginia, we make funny faces when we come, too.

It’s always easier to criticize the weirdness in others than to confront the weirdness in the mirror. (Perhaps that’s why mirrors in the bedroom are thought to be kinky.)

Our opponents take anxiety about sex – a natural and virtually universal human phenomenon – and wield it as a weapon against us. Shame on them.

As for the marriage-equality fight, what do you say to someone who thinks that we expect her “to approve of butt sex and call it marriage”?

Thankfully, another poster responded to that one more effectively than I ever could.

The respondent described herself as a lifelong Christian, daughter of a conservative minister, and “personally against gay marriage but passionate about gay civil rights.” (This description will strike some as paradoxical, but bravo to her for understanding the difference between personal beliefs and public policy.)

She then warmly depicts a gay couple she knows who have adopted two special-needs children. The children, she writes, “RADIATE happiness at each other, their parents, and the people around them. Somehow ‘butt sex’ doesn’t seem to neatly contain all the emotions, commitment, and wondrous devotion that their parents’ relationship has provided them with.”

She concludes by chiding her fellow Christian, “Please think carefully before you speak.”

Amen to that.

To read John Corvino’s article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Real Holiness
Making Love, Giving Life
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
What is a “Lifestyle”?
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
A Wise and Thoughtful Study of Sexual Ethics

Image 1: “Relationship” by Raphael Perez.
Image 2: Peter Foss.


Anonymous said...

Also, just to de-mythologize:

Statistically, *far* more straight people than gay people have genital-anal intercourse. (This is true for an increasing number of teenagers, too, at least in the US - that made a big stir a couple of years ago when studies showed that.) A majority of gay people don't don't engage in it with any regularity (especially when you include lesbians, hello).

The best "sex scene" in all of English language film I can recall is the wonderful-tragic scene in Muriel's wedding, with Toni Colette and her date on that pillow. (Toni is such a gifted actress, but that scene is a gem of a moment.)

Anonymous said...

Good to see some simple honesty about sex - too often in the church we just shut up and pussyfoot around the issue. I like the statement quoted by John McNeill in "Taking a Chance on God": There are just three kinds of sex - good, better, and best.

Sex is a fundamental part of our human makeup, contributing to both physical and mental health. It is astonishing to me that in the Catholic Church we continue to entrust moral teaching on such an important issue to men who either have no personal experience of the subject, or who are linving in denial of their own voluntarily made vows.

Anonymous said...

Renegade Eye sent me over, and I'm glad he did. What a great blog you have. I will be a reader for sure! Know I support you in your struggle. I had not the strength to remain a Roman Catholic and have since become Episcopalian. My issues were divorce (my husbands) and my marriage not being recognized. But in truth I was at odds with the Church on so many levels, I had to leave. I'm going to enjoy learning from what you have to say.

PrickliestPear said...

Very interesting.

If opponents of gay marriage equate it with "butt sex," do they reduce heterosexual marriage to mere "vagina sex"?

Anonymous said...

Terrance says:
"It is astonishing to me that in the Catholic Church we continue to entrust moral teaching on such an important issue to men who either have no personal experience of the subject, or who are linving in denial of their own voluntarily made vows."

That is such a narrow and clearlylimited assessment of the reality of celibacy.

Clearly one can live a celibate lie and still be in touch with their own sexuality and live fully as a sensual being. I would think that genuine healthy celibacy demands this.

I have been trying to form an analogy - something like : a person can be a very intelligent and sensitive person without dipping his pen in the well and writing a poem.

The article on this blog and the commentary- particularly Terrence's absolutely deny the human intellect and reduce sexual activity (hetero- or homosexual) to an absolutely base and animal activity (if it feels good --do it- and if it feels great do it more.)

I find no theology, spirituality or even honest discourse in this.

Any time you try to have a conversation about sexual activity and ignore the connection between genital activity and procreation- the conversation turns base rather quickly.

Terms like 'butt-sex' or 'vag-sex' are only designed to be provocative.

kevin57 said...


Indeed, one can be a celibate life and be in touch with his/her sexuality, but as a priest for almost 25 years, I can assure you that barely 1% of priests are in touch with their sexuality.

Moreover, the Vatican's shutting down discourse on all matters sexual and procreative shows the boys over in Rome are not in touch with their own sexuality. A person in touch with anything does not shut down dialogue.

CDE said...


the Vatican's shutting down discourse on all matters sexual and procreative

Could you explain this comment? Maybe the discourse isn't happening on your terms, but it is happening. It's hardly a Victorian era in the Vatican.

Anonymous said...

Kevin57 says:

"Indeed, one can be a celibate life and be in touch with his/her sexuality, but as a priest for almost 25 years, I can assure you that barely 1% of priests are in touch with their sexuality."

Where do you get your data? Your assessment is as narrow and as insulting as the homosexual person who assumes all people must be at least a little bit gay.

I think in fact it says more about you than it does the priests you pretend to know so much about.

Seriously, 1% (one out of one hundred). That would mean that any time you got together with a group of priests, you would be the only one who is so "in touch"? Really?

Perhaps you should test your data. It may well just be you who should explore your own sexual and spiritual health.

kevin57 said...


Happy to provide an example.

A canonically sanctioned assembly of priests to which I belonged voted to request that the Vatican re-examine the law of mandatory celibacy for priesthood. Although a strong majority were of the opinion that this stricture should be scraped altogether, a more "moderate" wing advised that we request that Latin-rite priests be under the same rule of celibacy as those of the Orthodox Churches (you know, the ones the popes like to refer to as "the second lung" of the Church).

The response we got back to our request was a "No, and we will not talk about this issue, period." Not only were we forced to strike the motion from the records of our proceedings, but we were also commanded not even to air our feelings about it being denied.

Fortunately, all the Vatican's hiding from this issue does not prevent the Spirit from speaking in and through ordinary Catholics around the kitchen table, the water cooler, and parish vestibules.

kevin57 said...


Admittedly, my assessment is anecdotal and not statistical; however, it is based on many, many years of priesthood associating with priests of many religious orders and dioceses, both nationally and even a bit on the international level.

Considering my experience within the system and yours completely outside the system, what gives you the right to not only question my perception but insult me in the process?

I feel hated by you, my friend.

Anonymous said...


If you feel 'hated' because I asked you to support data that you admit is made up, I do not know what I can say in response.

I simply extrapolatted the 1 out of 100 from your statement. Then, because your tone hardly suggests you think of yourself as one of the unhealthy, I supposed you most think of yourself as that elite 'one'.

I doubt that anyone would challenge me reasoning that such narcisism hardly represents a healthy self aware person.

Lastly, you claim to be 'within the system' and I have no reason to doubt you. However, I made no claims as to whether or not I am ordained or not. You should not jump to conclusions.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Is an anecdotal observation considered "data"?

I appreciate Kevin's sharing of his experiences and observations within the Roman Catholic priesthood, and do not detect "narcissism" in what he has said. So, yes, I for one am challenging what you're saying and insinuating.

As to Kevin "jumping to conclusions," well, again, your ascribing negative words and phrases to what he has shared in a consistently open manner. Would not a better response have been to simply state your connection to the priesthood?



Anonymous said...


If a person judges virtually all others in their group (99%) to be not "in touch with their sexuality" but yet claim to be in touch enough with their own sexual identity to make the assessment- I guess I think of that as the height of narcisism.

Secondly, anecdotal observation is indeed a kind of data but it carries a huge caveat (such as the hidden or unhidden bias of the observer". To posit such 'data' without clarifying that it is anecdotal observation is a disservice to discourse.

The narcisism continues in the way he undercuts the points I make by claiming extra validity to his 'data'/observations because he is "within the system" and my experience "outside the system." You say, Michael, that I am "ascribing negative words and phrases" to his "sharing in a consistently open manner."

The truth is that his specific jump to conclusions is a rhetorical trick to undermine the value of a counterpoint.

All of this, along with the "I feel hated by you" serve to elevate him and discredit me.

I am not surprised that you 'appreciate his observations and sharing' since you clearly agree with his assessment about the current state of the priesthood.

My well-studied belief is that there are indeed a number of ordained with sexual identity and sexual health issues. There are in any population. I wouldn't try to guess at a number, however. To do so, whether it be 99% as, Kevin says he has observed, or zero to 1% as others have said, does in fact reveal something about the observer unless there is a study to back it up.

The studies that exist do suggest that comfort with sexual identity among clergy is consistent with other demographic groups.

Perhaps there was some defensiveness in my response to kevin. But frankly, I get frustrated with the know-it-alls who presume to know so much about the interior lives of others (something biblical about the 'log in your eye' comes to mind).

The unverified hyperbole of statements (opinion offered as fact) such as the ones made by Terrence and Kevin about the state of the priesthood serve to undercut the points (related to the post) they may have been trying to make. Instead, the thread becomes a conversation about how unhealthy those clergy are.

The more challenging question for you would be: If a poster claiming to be a priest (and I say that not to be negative toward kevin but, lets face it, this is an anonymous
forum) were to make assertions with which you fundamentally disagree - using anecdotal information offered as fact and challenging the credibility of anyone with a differing point of view because they are "outside the system"- would you not accuse them of clericalism? Would you not challenge them to be more open minded?

As one who thinks of myself as left-of center and who has tried to engage in conversation on many of the issues facing our church I have to say my greatest sadness is in the defensiveness on the left that closes down discourse and the hyperbole, of which I have spoken, that removes credibility from what would otherwise be interesting points of continued dialogue.

It makes me sadder still, that unless one takes extreme progressive positions most progressives will discount the dialoectic contributions of a Catholic priest.